ALBUQUERQUE, N. M. – A New Mexico archbishop is renewing his call for Catholics to stop with the worship of the skeleton folk saint known as La Santa Muerte, or “Our lady of the Holy Death,” says he fears that some may mistakenly believe the Grim Reaper-like figure is a Roman Catholic Church sanctioned holy.
Santa Fe Archbishop John Wester recently told The Associated Press that he believes that some Catholics can be fooled in venerating Santa Muerte, although the focus is on the death goes against the teachings of the church.
“It’s really bad,” Wester said. “I think part, (by) people search and search. It is a symptom of a search looking for answers.”
But the devotion to the dead is not in line with the teachings of the church, Wester said, and Santa Muerte is misleading for the people.
“Our commitment to the God of life,” Wester said.
Popular in Mexico and sometimes linked to drug cartels, La Santa Muerte in recent years has a diverse following north of the border: immigrant small business owners, artists, gay activists and the poor, among others-many of them non-Latinos and not all involved with organized religion. Shrines and images of the skeleton figure — usually depicted with a black nun’s robe and with a scythe — can be found in New Mexico, California, Louisiana, Texas and elsewhere.
People pray to Santa Muerte for all kinds of otherworldly help of the deterring violations and to take revenge for the landing better jobs and stop lovers from cheating. Others seek her protection for their drug shipments and to ward off law enforcement.
Wester is one of only a handful of AMERICAN Roman Catholic bishops which denounced Santa Muerte. In 2017, he came to El Paso Bishop Mark Seitz of San Angelo Bishop Michael Sis in Texas and in the insistence of the Catholics to prevent the honor of the folk saint.
Sis said La Santa Muerte is “spiritually dangerous” and has no link to Catholicism. “It should be completely avoided. It is a perversion of the devotion to the saints,” Sis said.
But until now, no other high-ranking Catholic church officials have publicly criticized the worship of Santa Muerte, according to Andrew Chesnut, author of “Devoted to Death: Santa Muerte, the Skeleton Saint” and the Bishop Walter F. Sullivan chair in Catholic studies at Virginia Commonwealth University.
“In Latin America, the church officials scold Santa Muerte almost weekly,” Chesnut said.
Chesnut said that he believes that the U.S. Catholic officials have been reluctant to aggressively attack Santa Muerte because of their focus on defending the rights of migrants and the concerns about the representation of Mexican immigrants as “dangerous and all connected to the drug trade.”
Contreras is a member of The Associated Press’ race and ethnicity team. Follow him on Twitter http://twitter.com/russcontreras